Firstly, the Japanese trains are amazing. They’re a massive connection of interconnected short distance, medium distance, and long distance trains. Their speeds go from a normal subway speed, to 80 mph on the medium distance rail trains, all the way to about 180mph on the shinkansen trains. They’re fun, but they can also get super expensive if you don’t plan ahead.

What is the rail pass?

The rail pass gives you an unlimited travel on all JR trains (except for 2 that they warn you about) for a limited set of time. The Japanese Rail Pass is relatively expensive. However, considering walk up fares for the Shinkansen can be 70-80$ it can easily make up the cost. The pass allows for you to enter and use the trains on any unreserved cars’ seat when it is free.

What do you get with the Pass?

In general: it’s an entitlement to use the trains. It does not include any guaranteed seats. If you want to reserve a seat you can do so free of charge. Just remember you can’t have overlapping seats booked.

It’s meant for a single person on a workable route.

It depends on the class of travel that you buy the pass for. The Green class ticket is for the business/”first class” tickets. These seats are wider, and they tend to have a better hard product. Being an American, it is advisable to book this. The normal class is fitted for the size of normal Japanese people, not Americans.

Where should you purchase the tickets?

A lot of third party vendors offer affiliate commissions, so you’ll get recommended those online. I recommend buying the pass through the official site: Why? When reserving your seats, you’ll have the option of pulling seat reservations via the website.

Ok I have a pass

Great you’ve bought the pass. Now you’ll have to be ready for retrieving the pass once you land in Japan at Haneda, Osaka/KIX, or Narita. Bring the printout of the order that includes your order number. This is important for activating and receiving your rail pass card.

When you land, find the nearest JR station that is built into the airport. With the order reservation and your passport they’ll issue you your rail pass.

They will remind you of 2 things:

  • Do not lose that ticket. They do not replace it.
  • There are particular trains you absolutely cannot use. Don’t try it (also don’t bother with them.. they’re meant for commuters)

While you’re there, they’ll ask if they should issue you your seat reservations. Don’t issue them, because it makes changing those particular trains difficult.

How do you use the pass?

To use the pass put it in the fare gates, walk through the gate and taking the pass on the way out. There are tricks to this involving including your SUICA card and connecting, but I’m not familiar with them. Please research this. It may help your journey immensely. I had issues connecting in Shinagawa to Haneda to the Keiku line. This was resolved by taking our SUICA cards and JR cards to the desk.

How do I pull a seat reservation?

In every station, there will be vending machines. They’re there to buy tickets, change tickets, and work with your JR Pass. They have an option to change the language.

My recommendation is to use the website to book your seat reservations and to use the vending machines to pull/issue the seat reservations.

Set the language, press the “Japanese Rail Pass” button. They’ll ask for your passport number. From there you’ll be given an option to book new seat reservations, pull existing ones, etc.

Issue the seat reservations, and you’re ready to go.

I issued paper tickets for the seat reservations, how do I change them?

You can’t change them online since they’ve been issued. However, you can change them by going to a JR office and get them to undo it. It’s not difficult, but it does take time.

If you have an issued seat reservation, you won’t be able to book an overlapping seat. If it’s not issued, you can cancel the reservation on the site.

Were the trains busy?

My dad and I travelled to Japan in February. We didn’t have a lot of issues with getting seat reservations, except for main work related commuting times. We also frequently booked seats that included baggage areas.

Tip: Book seat reservations conservatively

We booked late seat reservations, and then canceled them if we decided to get back earlier. This was fantastic for travelling because we never felt we had to rush back to the train station. It also meant that we could leave a place if we were tired or didn’t like it. It also means you can extend your stay if you wanted.

What did I love about the passes?

They were super easy to deal with. The train frequency was high, and the experience was great.

The biggest benefit was that my dad and I could conservatively book a late returning train back from where we were day tripping, and then cancel it to book a sooner one. This helped us to avoid feeling trapped by the train schedules.

Where did the pass fall short?

The ticket machines, and the sites all had some serious issues. The seat reservation site always tried to plan your route via city connections rather than train station to train station.

For example: It had Tokyo->Kyoto->Osaka (central) via a transfer as its pushed routes rather than Tokyo->Osaka shin ( where you could connect to an underground station to get to your location).

This became a problem when you weren’t near the city central station. Additionally, the * Shin stations were typically where the Shinkansen trains would arrive to the city.

For the ticket machines: They required authorizing on each and every JRPass in your party and their passport numbers. The website didn’t ask for this, so it was easier to deal with and then pull the ticket at the machine.


Have fun. Japan is a fantastic place to go. There are lots of things to see. The rail system is a means to help you enjoy the place to the fullest.